PASEO Program Adventure: Day 3 in Huanchaco y Trujillo

Today was officially the start of my new adventure. Upon waking up in the morning, it took me a few seconds to remember where I was. But after the initial shock of forgetting I just traveled abroad settled down, I quickly realized that I was in Huanchaco, Peru- a place I will eventually come to call my home. 

In my short time here, I’ve come to appreciate one of life’s treasures that I believe so many of us take advantage of back in the States. Yes, I’m talking about Charmin Ultra Soft. I’ll just leave it at that and let that resonate for some time. I’ve also come to find out that maybe more people are actually reading this than just my mother and possibly my grandmother too. That adds a whole new level of pressure, seeing as I’ll have to write more than just what I’m eating and how I’m keeping safe every second of every day.

To really push myself into this new adventure ordeal, I went for a run this morning alongside the beach. (I know- I’m just as surprised writing that as you probably are reading this). Not only is Huanchaco known as a fisherman city and for its seafood, but it is also known as a surfing town as well, since the waves appear to always be in full flight. In fact, we can even hear the sound of the waves crashing down from the house we’re staying in. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices in life, and I guess sacrificing Charmin for an oceanside view will have to do. 

This afternoon, I had a pre-evaluation to assess my current knowledge of the Spanish language. I read aloud a case study and was asked to answer questions solely in Spanish regarding how I could help normalize a teenage pregnancy, how to explain depression to a teenager, and an example of a technique I would use to help a teenager calm down from nerves at any given moment during a session. My responses were recorded and will be heard by four of our professors as well as the owner of our house who is not in the counseling field and who does not speak English. The purpose is to assess each student’s needs and to see if a local would understand our explanations and techniques. This will set the foundation of our learning goals throughout the upcoming weeks. 

I had lunch at a local restaurant, where I paid 10 soles (less than four dollars) for a tamale, pollo saltado con arroz y papas, and a sweet drink made from a local fruit. I wanted to take pictures, but my hunger got the best of me. 

Our evening was spent in Trujillo (what you are looking at in the pictures), where we had our first class- Psicología en Perú with a local psychologist. I’ll have to provide more concrete details once the PowerPoints are shared with us, but we learned about mental health care in Peru, and how while even though there are laws that entail for mental health care to be accessible for all, this most certainly is not the case. For someone seeking mental health care in a hospital setting, the psychologist only has 10-20 minutes with that individual to provide an initial intake. 

The initial intake covers basic information about the person, as well as a brief assessment, in which only one question really matters. Have you thought about or attempted suicide within the last three months? If the individual answers yes to that, and apparently only that, only then will he or she return for services. However, services entail follow-ups consisting of taking other assessments each session. And you only have 10-20 minutes total for your session, if even that. Imagine any time you describe a difficult day you had at work to a loved one, or the last time you complained about a coworker or someone who cut you off on your way home. Now imagine trying to get all of that out in 20 minutes at most. And now imagine trying to discuss symptoms and issues you are experiencing pertaining to your mental health in about 10 minutes.

There are 20 inpatient agencies and 21 community agencies (focusing on medical and mental health together) throughout the country that are meant to serve the millions of individuals living here. One newspaper article showed a lady who attempted suicide three different times, but was unable to be hospitalized due to a lack of beds in the agencies. Imagine that for just a moment. 

With regards to substance abuse, the main modality of treatment here appears to be through the church. If you can put your faith into a higher power, and a higher power alone, your addiction will be “fixed.” Social workers can be found giving brief prevention-based education in the schools to that it can be said that the material has been “covered.” And if you want to talk about an individual with a severe and persistent mental illness, let’s say schizophrenia, for example, such an individual would be asked to go in for medication once a week. He or she would then be expected to continue to go in for more medication on a weekly basis. And that is your mental health care, in a condensed version. As a side note, there are great providers trying to make a difference here, just like in other countries as well. But this is the general sense of how mental health functions throughout the country.  

If I’m not mistaken, the amount of money that would be required to get Peru to where it should be with regards to mental health care is 800 million soles (less than 245 million dollars). The actual amount being spent on mental health care by the government is roughly 69 million soles (a little over 2 million dollars). The wealthy people in Peru live (viven), while those without money survive (sobreviven). Having started this post talking about a quality of toilet paper, I can’t help but think how fascinating it is what so many of us take for granted.

(P.S.- if any of the information I wrote is incorrect, I will be sure to update it and blame it on jet lag.)

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Running For A Cause: Part 1

This upcoming Sunday, January 24th, I’ll be running in the Miami Half Marathon to raise money and awareness for Misioneros Del Camino—a home for orphaned, abandoned, and malnourished children in Guatemala. Over the course of the next few days, I’ll be writing about Misioneros Del Camino and sharing the incredible background story of one brave woman’s calling from above to make a difference, as well as various success stories of some of the many children who grew up at MDC.

Born and raised in Cuba, Leonor Portela moved to Miami where her husband served as an American Air Force pilot. At the age of twenty-six, Leonor’s husband was called for duty to during the Bay of Pigs, but unfortunately, his plane was shot down and crashed in the ocean. Years later, after hearing about the devastating 1976 earthquake in Guatemala, Leonor was moved to action and decided to assist in volunteer efforts abroad. She traveled to Guatemala to offer her assistance, and was shocked at the country’s destruction and the conditions that the children were living in. After returning to America, it took a few years before Leonor was able to find the financial help and support needed to return to Guatemala and follow through with a calling from above.

In 1986, Leonor sold her home and moved to Guatemala with $2,700 raised by her prayer group—where she opened a Home for children—currently known as Misioneros Del Camino. Leonor, also known as Mami Leo, started the Home with three children, and worked tirelessly to collect donations to bring in more children. One of the first children was a two-year year old girl with tuberculosis who weighed only 12 pounds. Doctors swore that she would have no more than two weeks to live, but she is currently living in the United States with a masters in social work. Another child taken in by Mami Leo had been dipped in scalding water by his parents, and had undergone other atrocious treatments by them as well. Mami Leo carried him in her arms for days, and during that time, he did not move or utter a sound. As she put him to bed on the fourth night of continuously caring for him and holding him, he broke his silence and asked, “Por que me quieres?” which translates to “Why do you love me?” He is currently attending law school and returns to the Home to help out whenever he can.

There are so many children living on the streets in Guatemala—many of whom are suffering from malnutrition and hunger. Mami Leo once exclaimed, “It’s not only saving a child, giving them food and shelter; anybody can do that. But to give love, to make them citizens that are proud of themselves and not ashamed of where they come from, and become good Christians, I think that’s the job.” Throughout the years, Mami Leo has saved, cared for, and provided educational, nutritional, and medical support for thousands of children.

In honor of the work Mami Leo has done, in continuing her legacy, and to help provide a bright future to the current generation of children at Misioneros Del Camino, I am running in this week’s Miami Marathon. If you would like to help contribute to this incredible cause so that we can help fulfill Mami Leo’s mission, please feel free to click on the below link. And if you would like to learn more about Misioneros Del Camino, please feel free to clink on the bottom link.

https://www.gofundme.com/5y82yn78
www.misionerosdelcamino.org 

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Snapshot Challenge Saturday

To conclude my story-telling from my trip to Guatemala for a medical mission this past summer, I’ll leave you with this story. A mother sat down at my triage table with her twelve-year-old daughter and two-year old baby. Upon inquiring into her medical needs and what we could do for the three of them, the mother explained that she had been experiencing depression for quite some time now. Her twelve-year-old daughter had severe asthma, and her mother could not afford to purchase the necessary medication for her. Seeing her daughter so sick and constantly suffering from asthma attacks led the mother into a state of depression. Feeling as though there was nothing she could do for her daughter, the mother had been experiencing feelings of hopelessness and despair on behalf of her daughter. She could not bear seeing her daughter in such a terrible state.

I promised the mother that the doctors would take good care of her daughter, and provide her with the medication needed to help better her asthma. She continuously thanked me, as I walked them over to the room where the pediatricians were working. Later in the day, the mother approached me with a bag of medication and thanked me for my help. She explained that she, as well as her newborn and twelve-year-old daughter had each been seen by a doctor, and that her daughter had received asthma medication to last for four months. She was so appreciative, but she asked if we happened to have any more medicine, seeing as our mission would not be returning for a total of six months.

I walked into the makeshift pharmacy, and the pharmacist said there were only three boxes of asthma medications remaining, but they were not the same kind as the young girl received from the doctor. The mother asked if there was anything I could do, because she didn’t want her daughter to experience such awful asthma attacks again once the medication ran out four months later. I took the new box of asthma medicine and asked the pediatrician if it would be okay to give to the young girl, and he mentioned it was fine; it was just a different brand of medicine. I gave the mother the last three boxes of asthma medication for her daughter, and she actually jumped for joy.

I am not able to understand what it is like to be a parent who has to see his or her child suffer from such severe asthma attacks, but I was able witness firsthand how excited this mother was to receive just enough medicine to last a few extra months for her little girl. Something so simple such as asthma medication is not something I would typically think too much of. But unfortunately, this happens to be a given of life: we often take things for granted without realizing that somewhere in the world, someone would be beyond appreciate of such a possession—especially this particular medication. Seeing the joy in this mother’s eyes was most definitely a beautiful sight to see, and there is no other story I would have wanted to use to conclude the sharing of my experiences on a medical mission to Guatemala this past June.

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